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The best way to survive lung cancer: Get a screening

FARGO—The American Lung Association has one thing they want people at a higher risk of lung cancer to know: They can get screened with a low-dose CT scan that could diagnose any cancer earlier and provide a better chance of surviving.

It is the deadliest form of cancer, accounting for one in four cancer deaths in the United States..

A low-dose CT scan is a special kind of X-ray that takes multiple pictures as a person lies on a table that slides in and out of the machine. (It's not a tight fit like some MRI machines.) A computer then combines the images into a detailed picture of the lungs.

A study on early detection of lung cancer found that only the low-dose CT scan can reduce mortality for those at high risk.

One problem in the upper Midwest, however, is that there aren't a lot of screening facilities. North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are all in the bottom half of the states with available screening centers, according to a study released earlier this year by the association.

South Dakota had the lowest ranking at 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. North Dakota was 44th, and Minnesota was 34th. The three states also have some of the highest number of new cases with Minnesota ninth, North Dakota 11th and South Dakota 12th.

Pat McKone, of Duluth, Minn., and a senior regional director of tobacco control and advocacy for the lung association, said in a release the report is the first of its kind in an effort to get a handle on the disease and raise awareness.

She said in Minnesota an estimated 4,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and 2,400 will die. In North Dakota, an estimated 500 people will get lung cancer, with 300 succumbing to the disease, while in South Dakota, the estimate is 650 people, with 400 losing their lives.

"More must be done to to save lives," McKone said.

Jill Thompson, manager of the association's regional communications division, urges people to go to an association website called "savedbythescan.org." That has a simple test to identify people who are at high risk and should definitely get scanned, along with answers about insurance and payments and where some facilities are located.

Thompson said for most people at high risk, Medicare or insurance will usually pay for the scan, although that depends on coverage plans and the possibility of co-pays.

Once scheduled, the scan usually only takes minutes, she said, with a report sent to the person's doctor.

Individuals especially urged to get a scan are those who smoked one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. However, Thompson points out that areas with high radon rates can also be at high risk.

"This past week we just had a study come out, too, that younger white and Hispanic women who smoke have a higher risk for developing lung cancer. It's not known why that is," she said.

Thompson also said a report last year found that the top reason those at high risk for lung cancer gave for not getting screened is that their doctor never recommended it.

And, despite potentially saving their lives, 41 percent of high-risk former or current smokers are not planning on getting screened.